5. Cooperation that Goes Beyond ‘Doing the Same Thing at the Same Time’
Piggybacking off of #4, the natural interactions and moment-to-moment gameplay is deeply enhanced through cooperation that goes beyond ‘doing the same thing at the same time’, as with many games (traditional and VR alike). It’s one thing to shooting the same baddies together with the same guns, but it’s a deeply immersive experience to work together in different, intermingling roles to achieve the same objective.
For instance, the helmsman steers from the ship’s wheel itself, and their view is often obscured by the sails. That makes it a boon to have a player at the bow of the ship calling out micro-navigational adjustments to help the helmsman avoid rocks, reefs, and enemy ships, just as it’s helpful to have someone keeping an eye on the map below deck and verbally relaying macro-navigation to the helmsman (ie: which direction to the next island, islands or areas of the map to avoid).
If you happen to come across a hostile enemy ship who wants to come in for a broadside, one player can man an extra sail while another goes below deck to make sure the cannons are loaded and ready. And when it comes time to let loose the salvo, you’re likely to take some shots to the hull, which causes water to leak inside. Left untended, those leaks will sink your ship entirely, so while one player might stay on the cannons to make sure the enemy isn’t taking free shots, another can grab planks from the barrels to patch up the holes, while another still can use a bucket to bail water from the ship using and toss it over board before it overtakes the ship completely.
The game could have been designed to avoid these ‘issues’ (having your view blocked by the sales, making the map available as a menu instead of placing it in the game world below deck), but that would have eliminated opportunities for emergent roles and cooperation which requires multiple players to do different things in order to achieve the shared outcome of effectively operating your ship.
6. Wide Ranging (Optional) Pacing
Sometimes players want action, and sometimes they want to relax. Sometimes they want adventure, and sometimes they want to goof around and laugh. In many games, the pacing is scripted—in an FPS, you’ll clear a room full of enemies, and then maybe you’ll get some story, and then maybe you’ll solve a puzzle before finding more enemies. In such games, ‘relaxation’ might not even have a place in the game, and the player might have to change games entirely if they are in the mood for that kind of gameplay.
Sea of Thieves operates more like a choose-your-own adventure sandbox where you can seek out the gameplay you’re in the mood for. Want action? Scan the horizon for enemy ships and go fight them! Want relaxation? Sail leisurely through the game’s beautiful blue waters, and drop the anchor to take in the picturesque sunsets and dynamic clouds. Want adventure? Go get some quests from the nearest port and go off searching for lost treasure. Want to goof around? Play a sea shanty with your friends and then see who can launch themselves out of a cannon and onto to the precipice of and island.
7. Meaningful Weapons That Engage the Player With the World
No, cannons alone aren’t great game design, but it’s how they work in Sea of Thieves that’s worth mentioning In the game, cannons are your ship’s primary weapon. We already covered natural interactions in #1 above, which is great because you have to go retrieve a cannon ball and then bring it to the cannon to load it in for a shot, but another thing that makes the cannons great is how slow their projectiles are, and how they respond to the state of the world around the player.
For many of the same reasons that bows are much more interesting in VR than guns are, cannons are smart for immersion too. The relatively slow movement and steep arc of the cannonball means that the cannons don’t act like lasers. Instead of the simple point-and-click of many gun implementations, players need to be able to account for what’s going on in the world around them. If your ship is still on flat water, when you fire a cannon the shot’s trajectory will be highly predictable. But, when you add the momentum of your ship, the momentum of the enemy ship, and the motion of your boat in the waves, aiming gets more complicated fast.
That means that with each shot, you must be paying attention to the game world, otherwise you’ll never be able to appropriately lead, aim, and hit your opponent—and when you do, it’s very satisfying. Compare that to using a machine gun with laser accuracy in VR (which often turns out to get boring quickly). Conversely, games which use bows (which layer on much more interesting physical interactions than just pulling a trigger) have that satisfying feeling when you land that perfect arrow on an enemy. Note that some of the better VR games which do use guns, like Space Pirate Trainer (2017), also tend to have very slow-moving projectiles, because when it comes to VR, the very human interaction of observing, adjusting, and then achieving something is much more interesting than your kill count.
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Are you playing Sea of Thieves? Do you find it immersive? What other lessons can the game teach us about great VR design? Drop us a line below.